by John Whitehouse on 11 March, 2014
Today is the fourth anniversary of the fateful day in 2010 when, in the run-up to the General Election, the Labour government announced its plan to build the HS2 line between London and Birmingham. Many at the time saw it as a blatant election ploy by Labour to boost support in West Midlands marginal constituencies. Who would have thought that the incoming Coalition government would pick up and run with the project without subjecting it to the toughest critical scrutiny, and that now four years later this huge vanity project continues to rumble on, seemingly unstoppable by rational argument alone?
I make no secret of my total opposition to HS2. When it was first announced I was acting as agent in the parliamentary campaign in Kenilworth & Southam constituency, and it took my candidate and I a few days to read everything which the government published about the project and to decide to oppose it outright. Yes, the Lib Dems have a policy of supporting high speed rail, but we quickly decided that HS2 was the wrong scheme on the wrong route at the wrong (excessive) speed. Since then, of course, successive Secretaries of State for Transport have tried to shift the rationale for HS2 several times as each previous argument has been shot down in flames.
And yet, HS2 is still with us, and in fact the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill is in the House of Commons with its 2nd Reading expected some time after the Easter recess. Due to the ineptitude and failure of HS2 Ltd to engage fairly and effectively with individuals and communities affected by the scheme, the consultation on the Environmental Statement has attracted well over 20,000 responses. The petitioning stage of the Hybrid Bill, which will start some time after the 2nd Reading, will stretch at least until after the next General Election in May 2015. Even Patrick McLoughlin has now accepted this reality! HS2 will therefore be a major general election issue in 2015.
I’m very unhappy that the leadership of the Lib Dems, like that of the other two major parties, continues to be speak out in favour of HS2. However, there is mounting evidence that individual members and local parties are turning against HS2, as indeed is public opinion. The focus now needs to be on individual Lib Dem MPs, to persuade them to look hard at all the evidence against HS2 before the 2nd Reading of the Hybrid Bill and to vote against it.
If you are lucky enough to live in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP, please write to him/her and express your opposition to HS2. Even if you don’t, write anyway! I have, to a number of Lib Dem MPs in the South West and West – see http://johnwhitehouse.mycouncillor.org.uk/my-letter-to-lib-dem-mps-in-the-south-west-and-west-24th-february-2014/. So far two replies, both quite encouraging, so let’s hope for some more!1 Comment